Magdalena Lohninger: What is a subject? (Week 2)

In most well-studied languages, subjects are defined by a bundle of functions: they are deleted in infinitives, targeted by obligatory control (as controllee), selected by imperatives, can undergo raising and bind (subject-oriented) anaphors. The question of this course will be whether all languages exhibit one and only one element that comprises these functions or if subjecthood can be split onto two different elements, whether subjecthood can be tied to a specific syntactic position (SpecTP? Highest SpecvP?) or if it can be defined in terms of theta-roles, case, phi-agreement or A-movement.

As a result, we will discuss whether subjecthood is a universal property of natural language or rather a coincidental bundling of functions in many (but not all) languages. During the course we investigate passivization, case-alignment , topicalization and control in a set of languages that do not straightforwardly reveal what a subject is (e.g. Austronesian, (syntactically) ergative languages) and see how these languages can contribute to our search for a syntactic position of subjects.